Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Credit score drop? How to diagnose why and what to do next. Also in the news: Put off debt payments to start saving now, going contactless as a way to pay safer, and many unemployed people aren’t aware of all the relief they may qualify for during the pandemic.

Credit Score Drop? How to Diagnose Why, and What to Do Next
If you got a payment modification and saw a score drop, it’s tempting to think they’re related. They may not be.

Put Off Debt Payments to Start Saving Now
In uncertain times, it makes sense to prioritize building a cash reserve over paying down debt balances.

Looking for Safer Ways to Pay? Go Contactless
Contactless payments like mobile wallets, P2P apps and tap-to-pay cards are easy to use and help lessen risk of contagion.

Many unemployed people aren’t aware of all the relief they may qualify for during the pandemic
Take a look at what’s available.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 6 tips for handling credit card bills if you’ve lost income. Also in the news: How to slash your cell phone bill, how to work around delays in major IRS functions, and how credit card rewards will change after the pandemic.

6 tips for handling credit card bills if you’ve lost income
Protecting yourself from penalties.

How to slash your cell phone bill
Ways to reduce your monthly costs.

How to Work Around Delays in Major IRS Functions
Exploring your options.

How Credit Card Rewards Will Change After the Pandemic
The new normal for rewards.

Q&A: Stimulus funds don’t count as income

Dear Liz: I hold power of attorney for my aunt, who is in a local nursing home. Medicaid pays the bulk of her cost to stay there. Her $1,200 stimulus check was just deposited into her bank account at the end of last month. The state Medicaid rules require that she not have more than $2,000 in assets. I try to keep her bank balance below that each month, which can be a challenge. Do you have any idea how the state Medicaid will handle this additional income to her bank account? Will I have to pay the nursing home additional money from it or reimburse Medicaid? Or will she be allowed to keep the whole amount? I want to be judicious with her finances and not screw up her eligibility for Medicaid (her greatest fear is being thrown out on the streets).

Answer: Your aunt is lucky to have you, and fortunately there’s no need to worry. The payments are not considered income for recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), according to a blog post by Social Security commissioner Andrew Saul. State Medicaid programs are not allowed to impose eligibility requirements that are stricter than SSI standards, according to ElderLawAnswers, a referral site for attorneys who specialize in issues relating to seniors.

Q&A: Big debt is bad in the coronavirus downturn. But a consolidation loan might not be the answer

Dear Liz: I have about $40,000 in credit card debt and am considering a consolidation loan. I’m current with my cards. My income is about $130,000 per year. Can you recommend a lender? Any cautions?

Answer: As you probably know, this is a bad time to be burdened with a lot of debt. But taking out another loan may not be the answer.

Personal loans — the type of unsecured loan often used to consolidate other debt — work out best when you can lower the rate on your debt, get it paid off within three to five years and avoid accruing more debt while you do so.

Unfortunately, people who take out consolidation loans often don’t, or can’t, fix the problem that caused the debt in the first place. If the debt came from overspending, for example, they don’t trim their expenses to match their income and wind up borrowing more. If the debt is from medical bills, ill health may cause them to incur more medical-related debt.

Another issue is interest rates. Personal loans typically have fixed rates, which is good, along with fixed payments so you actually pay off the debt over time. That’s in sharp contrast to credit cards, which usually have variable rates and minimum payments that don’t pay down much of your principal.

Unless your credit is good and your income secure, though, you may wind up paying a higher rate than you are now — assuming you can get a personal loan at all. Lenders have tightened their standards considerably in recent weeks because of the current and expected economic fallout from the pandemic.

Many people are better off paying down their debt on their own, making extra payments to get their highest-rate card paid off first, and then moving to the next-highest-rate card, while paying minimums on the rest. (Another approach is to pay the smallest balance first, to give yourself a psychological win that can motivate you to keep going.)

If you can’t pay more than the minimums, then you’re likely in too much debt to dig your way out on your own. Consider making appointments with a credit counselor affiliated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and with a bankruptcy attorney (the National Assn. of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys offers referrals) so you can better understand your options.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Your 401(k) match may be in jeopardy. Here’s what you should do. Also in the news: What happens to your travel rewards if your airline goes bankrupt, how to upgrade your old car with new tech, and why your student loan Coronavirus forbearance is messing up your credit report.

Your 401(k) match may be in jeopardy. Here’s what you should do
Steps to take right now.

Airlines are on the brink of bankruptcy — what happens to your voucher, travel miles and airline credit card if they go belly up?
No guarantee of a refund,

Upgrade Your Old Car With New-Car Tech
You can get rid of those 8-track tapes.

Why Your Student Loan Coronavirus Forbearance Is Messing Up Your Credit Report
Scores are dropping as much as 50 points.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 questions to ask before canceling your travel credit card. Also in the news: Think it’s bad now? Wait until hurricane and fire seasons start, 8 types of credit card relief you can ask for, and tomorrow is the deadline to receive your Coronavirus payment by direct deposit.

5 Questions to Ask Before Canceling Your Travel Credit Card
You might hurt your credit score.

Think it’s bad now? Wait until hurricane and fire seasons start
Mother nature doesn’t care about your pandemic.

8 types of credit card relief you can ask for
From delayed payments to credit line increases.

Tomorrow Is the Deadline to Receive Your Coronavirus Payment by Direct Deposit
Get your information in.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Start thinking bankruptcy now to maximize your options later. Also in the news: Why this is the perfect time to teach teens about credit, how to protect your stimulus relief check from debt collectors, and how to return a deceased relative’s stimulus check.

Start Thinking Bankruptcy Now, to Maximize Your Options Later
Timing is everything during the pandemic.

This is the perfect time to teach teens about credit
5 ways to prepare Gen Z for the real world of debt and finances.

How to protect your stimulus relief check from debt collectors
Turn that check into cash quickly.

How to Return a Deceased Relative’s Stimulus Check
Unfortunately, you can’t keep it.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: For self-employed, filing for unemployment benefits is getting easier. Also in the news: How to pay rent when you can’t afford it, what to keep in mind with credit card payments during the pandemic, and how to find out what you owe the IRS.

For Self-Employed, Filing for Unemployment Benefits Is Getting Easier
What you need to know before filing a claim.

How to Pay Rent When You Can’t Afford It
Exploring your options.

COVID-19: What to Keep in Mind With Credit Card Bill Payments
Reach out to your card issuer.

Use This IRS Tool to Check What You Owe Them
Making sure you’re up-to-date.

Start thinking bankruptcy now, not later

If you’ve lost your job or struggle to pay your debt, you may need to file for bankruptcy. If that’s the case, you should ignore some common financial advice and start thinking defensively.

The coronavirus pandemic that upended the economy is also expected to send unprecedented numbers of people and businesses to bankruptcy court. Millions are out of work, and economic disruptions could continue until a vaccine is widely available, something that may be more than a year away.

“I am gearing up for having a tsunami of new cases,” says Jenny Doling, a bankruptcy attorney in Palm Desert, California, who serves on the American Bankruptcy Institute’s Chapter 13 Advisory Committee. “I think there will be a whole lot more people filing than what anyone’s ever seen before.”

In my latest for the Associated Press, what you need to know now if bankruptcy is in your future.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How states are helping student loan borrowers during the Coronavirus. Also in the news: Making a financial recovery kit to rally faster after disaster, a new episode of the SmartMoney podcast on buying a first home in an expensive area, and why your credit limit just dropped.

How States Are Helping Student Loan Borrowers During the Coronavirus
Find out what your state is doing.

Make a Financial Recovery Kit to Rally Faster After Disaster
Using all this free time wisely.

SmartMoney Podcast: ‘How Can I Buy My First Home in an Expensive City?’
Important factors to take into consideration.

Why Your Credit Limit Just Dropped
Reducing risk.